Smithson: A hard day’s night in the public eye

For Ford and for Wallin and for Duffy, the excrement may just now be hitting the fan.

If you carry out your work in the public eye, I think you have to expect there are going to be good times and bad times.

If your name happens to be Duffy, Wallin, Dix, or Ford, you’ve likely had better weeks than the last few.

The news media, whether on the airwaves or in print or online, is abuzz with discussion of the fates and fortunes of these public figures.

Though, as is sometimes the case, I wonder whether the discussion may be missing some key points.

Adrian Dix presided over an epic election collapse by B.C.’s New Democratic Party. Possibly only members of the Toronto Maple Leafs know just how badly Dix must feel about his last minute stumble.

The talk, since, has seemingly been all about how the B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark out-campaigned Dix and, in doing so, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Dix commented, “I needed to work on my skills, which are not the same ones you need to be premier. I could have been far better on the campaign.”

I’d have to disagree with the view that campaigning skills are not ones needed to be premier of a province.

Regardless, my feeling is that the focus on Dix as NDP leader and his lacklustre campaign effort misses the real issue.

I think the question the provincial NDP, and all voters in B.C., might ask themselves is: “Why, given all the conditions necessary for a sweeping electoral victory, did the NDP—as a party—end up going backwards in this election?”

The answer, I’d say, goes far beyond whether Dix is photogenic enough, made the story of his life available enough, or kissed enough babies on the campaign trail (I’m not certain that politicians actually still do that—or ever did for that matter).

The answer has to lay fundamentally in the platform the party has advanced and, presumably, the fact that its ideals appealed only to a limited segment of B.C. voters.

Given the repeated gaffes of the governing Liberals over the last decade and the inevitable swinging of the political pendulum in this province, there could not have been a better set of circumstances to attract supporters to the NDP’s vision.

Heck, Christy Clark even ran a red light with a reporter in her car in the midst of the campaign!

If the platform of the NDP  truly held appeal for B.C.’s voters, the moment to initiate change was there and Clark’s smiley, folksy manner should have had little effect.

But the voters didn’t embrace the NDP at this most opportune of moments and that has to be due to factors well beyond Dix’s bland campaign style.

Now that the Liberals have magically revitalized themselves and their mandate to govern, the NDP must ask what it will take to seize the momentum of the pendulum swing next time around.

I don’t think the answer lays solely in finding a dynamic campaigner as leader (although, no doubt, that wouldn’t hurt). To paraphrase an old political campaign saying, it’s the platform, stupid!

Speaking of Toronto, if you’re Mayor Rob Ford you might be wondering whether the whole world is out to get you.

Dogged by one scandal after another, if nothing else he can be called a survivor.

After a period of deafening silence in the face of allegations that he was captured on video smoking crack cocaine, Ford finally made the statement. “I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine,” he said.

Not having seen the alleged video, I have no personal reason whatsoever to doubt Mr. Ford’s word.

As a person who makes a living with words, I nonetheless see some issues with his quasi-denial.

It seems to me that Mr. Ford’s skillfully crafted statement was more notable for what it didn’t say.

He addressed only two of (at least) five necessary points of denial in this situation. He did address whether he is, at present, a user and whether, at present, he is an addict.

He did not address whether he believed the image on the alleged videotape might be him, he did not deny ever having used crack cocaine in the past, and he did not deny ever having been an addict in the past.

So, on that short public statement, Mr. Ford gets (perhaps) a score of two out of five. Not exactly a stellar grade and one is left to ponder why the latter three points were omitted from his statement.

And then there are Canada’s highest profile senators of the moment, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin.

Alleged to have gorged themselves at the public trough with excessive (can the word fraudulent be far behind?) expense claims, the two of them seemingly stand as good reasons why diligent, independent auditing should always be a component of government.

But it seems to me that all the microscopic inspection of their travel expenses, per diems, housing claims, etc. really misses the important question.

It seems to me Canadians should be asking the question, “Why are formerly prominent members of the news media sitting in Canada’s Senate in the first place?”

Reporters will be the first to howl when their independence is in any way threatened, that freedom of the press and journalistic integrity are indispensable features of any truly democratic society. I have no quarrel with that concept.

Yet, here are two individuals who made a living (to a greater or lesser extent) reporting on the activities of Canada’s government and its federal political parties.

Upon leaving their high-profile media jobs they were appointed to highly political positions in which they have been actively campaigning and fundraising on behalf of the governing party.

What’s the issue? Well, isn’t it plain to see that the prospect or promise of a political appointment must (not might, but must) have some impact on a journalist’s integrity?

If the prospect of a political payoff has become the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for journalists, surely we would all be fools to think that their objectivity won’t be compromised along the way.

We should, in my view, be able to expect that members of the news media will isolate themselves from these sorts of appointments.

All in all, it’s been a busy few weeks for people working in the public eye.

For Adrian Dix, the good news is that the worst may be over.

For Ford and for Wallin and for Duffy, well, the excrement may just now be hitting the fan.

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